Mar 18 2010

Big River

This past Monday, I had the pleasure of attending the premiere of Big River, the sequel to the documentary King Corn.   King Corn followed two low-key college friends to Iowa on their quest to grow an acre of government subsidized corn and learn the ins and outs of the industrial corn industry.

Along the way, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis meet small town farmers working under the constraints of ‘big agriculture’.  They see towns that had become desolate as the need for farmers (and thus communities) disappeared due to technology and pesticides.  They even experiment with making their own High Fructose Corn Syrup.  King Corn is a thought provoking documentary in which Ian and Curt are convincing in their curiosity without being preachy or judgmental.

Since making King Corn, Ian and Curt, who both live in Brooklyn, have become well-versed in the local food movement.  Curt and Ian run the production company Wicked Delicate and operate Truck Farm, a 20 member CSA out of the bed of their '86 Dodge Pick Up.  In honor of Earth Week, the Truck Farm will be traveling to area schools to talk about planting and conservation.  Curt is also a Food and Society Fellow with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and directed Big River.

Big River is a brief look at the consequences of 'conventional' agriculture (a companion not only to ‘King Corn’, but also to Food Inc., Righteous Porkchop, The Unforeseen, multiple books by Wendell Berry and Fast Food Nation, etc).  Where do the fertilizers, pesticides, and animal wastes go?  It’s a cycle, starting in the nearby streams and man-made bodies of water that animals drink from and moving via air and groundwater to additional waterways, including the Mississippi River, until eventually connecting to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Gulf of Mexico is now home to a dead zone:  a region of water with a very low concentration of oxygen. The increase of nitrogen and phosphorus attracts oxygen depleting algae. There are multiple dead zones across the world, including part of the Chesapeake Bay.  As a result, shrimpers are no longer catching shrimp and multiple species of fish are dying off.

The post-screening panel was made of Ian Cheney and Aaron Wolf as well as Hudson Valley farmer Cheryl Rogowski and Steve Rosenberg of Scenic Hudson.

Several themes came up during the discussion:

  • Many farmers are 65 years old or older.  There is a serious need for younger people to return to the land.  There’s a need for farming to be an appealing profession and for it to attract bright and creative minds.  These bright and creative minds have great ideas!  Ian talked about the potential of moving to Iowa to start a farm and revitalize the community with indie movie theaters and bike stores.  That’s an idea I can get behind!
  • Farming brings about a sense of community and common purpose.  There are many ways to think outside the box, include land shares and the Crop Mobs.
  • Many farmers want to connect with the under served community but these farmers need assistance, be it monetary or physical, in order to accomplish this task.  Cheryl Rogowski talked about being approached by members of a community in East New York interested in starting a CSA.  She was 100% supportive but simply did not have the resources to make this a reality.
  • Creativity is key when it comes to the local food movement and food access.  Aaron Wolf has many inspiring ideas about getting more local food into the entire New York City community, including the use of commuter rail.